Robins in the winter?!

Print More

American robin feasting on dogwood berries. Photo by Don Shaw, Jr.

Hikers on Holcomb Farm’s Tree Trail pass a large kiosk on their way up the initial hill. The kiosk’s front side has a map of the trails; the back side has seasonal information on trees, biological processes and birds. The new bird information that went up this month is about robins that we see in Granby during the winter.

Robins are not an uncommon sight in these parts in winter. Some are stragglers that are taking their time flying south, but most of the robins we see here during winter have come down to southern New England from sites much farther to the north. They have come south for the warmer weather than in their natural breeding grounds and will return to the north in the spring.

What do these winter robins eat, since their favorite worms and insects are not available? Berries! They love berries and other fruits left on shrubs, trees and vines. Mostly traveling in flocks, they are nomadic, i.e., they go where food is available and stay until they have depleted it, then move on to another spot. They do not defend a home territory as they do when in their normal breeding habitat.

How do the robins stay warm here in winter? They shiver! They also fluff their feathers for insulation.

How do you feed our winter robins? Put berries and fruits on the ground. Robins do not go to conventional feeders. Even if their beaks could crack the seed coats, they can’t digest seeds. What’s the best food to offer them? Mealworms from a pet store.

Despite the cold, winter birds need water—not just to drink, but to keep their feathers clean. Dirty feathers lose their ability to provide insulation. A heated birdbath is a welcome treat.